One of the biggest movements in Christianity across conservative, liberal, and even emergent lines is the desire to be culturally relevant. The conservatives tend to desire relevancy through their “worship” (music) and style of message. The liberals and emergents tend to desire relevancy in their beliefs. In fact, the only difference between a liberal and an emergent is a liberal will say, “Well the majority believes this, so…” whereas the emergent will still think his belief is in the minority (when it’s actually part of the trend).
Regardless, I see this desire for relevancy to be troubling. It betrays a desire to be accepted by the world rather than by God. What is more troubling is that it betrays a lack of knowledge concerning the early Church and what she faced. If we understood our history there is a chance we could understand how to deal with the modern age.
I’m currently reading through Justin Martyr’s First Apology (defense) and the first part of the defense is explaining that what has been said about Christianity is not true. In other words, much of the persecution against Christians was not due to their belief in Christ, but to the misconceptions about Christians. Rather than attempting to become culturally relevant and adapt to the culture so as to avoid persecution, the Christians attempted to explain the misconceptions and live in a way that pleased God. If the culture saw it and accepted it, then great. If not, then the Christians welcomed persecution.
In our modern age we attempt to be relevant to the culture rather than making the culture relevant to us. I don’t mean through violence, but through actions. When we attempt to ape the methods of the world, we water down a very potent and counter-cultural Gospel. The amazing works of the Gospel are no longer the works of the Holy Spirit that cannot be explained or copied, but rather successful business strategies that you too can copy in 7 easy steps for $19.99. We become obsessed over mega-churches because they provide a good business model that allow for the church to function as a well-oiled machine. We prefer the best music to attract the largest crowds and ignore the lyrics or what actually aids in the worship of God. In all, Christianity, in an attempt to ape the culture, becomes less than the culture and not worthy of its former stature. The medium is changed to reach the largest number of people, but the medium overrides the message. While the medium must change, it cannot override the message.
Even worse than the above is when we begin to ape the message of the world. What was formerly a sin is now no longer a sin. Suddenly, we begin to find new ways to interpret the Bible and say, “Well, how this was meant no longer applies to today.” It’s a very sophisticated way of saying, “We know better than they did.” These interpretations have no tradition behind them. No one has ever interpreted the scriptures in this way, not even the earliest Christians, but we somehow think we have a better perspective with our modern enlightened minds than these Neanderthal ancients did. We change the importance of Christianity – it’s not important that Jesus was God, it’s important that you have a relationship with Him. It’s not important that Christ is the only way to the Father, it’s important that you find your own way. The Christianity that adopts the ways of the world ends up being nothing like Christianity.
Christianity is an ancient religion founded in ancient beliefs. When people say that I get my beliefs from a 2,000 year old book and a 2,000 year old belief, I am quick to correct them and say parts of the book are over 3,000 years old and the belief is even older. We should take pride in the ancient beliefs because having survived for thousands of years, they have shown their resilience to change. More importantly, we should take pride in these ancient beliefs because they are founded in the Eternal and come from a timeless Source who is not subject to change. Christianity is an ancient faith and not modern, we must never forget this or attempt to change this.